NASA announced a radical new finding today. In Mono Lake, Calif., scientists have discovered bacteria—dubbed GFAJ-1—that are unlike any other organism on Earth. It's life, but not as we know it, and it's so different that we can even call it "alien."
Biology class taught us that it takes the presence of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur in order to create "organic" life; these elements are the building blocks of everything on this planet ... until today. These microbes have two fundamental differences: 1) Phosphorous exists in GFAJ-1 only in negligible amounts, and 2) Instead of phosphorous, the microorganisms use arsenic.
The Washington Post says, "The research ... found that some of the bacteria not only used arsenic to live, but had arsenic embedded into their DNA, RNA and other basic underpinnings."
In other words, arsenic, which is poison to every other living creature, isn't just this microorganism's tasty treat; it's a part of its very inhuman nature.
These arsenic life forms aren't going to rise up and become our new alien overlords anytime soon, nor will they etch "NO KILL I" on a wall while defending their young. But they will alter our perception on the way we look at life.
Fox News spoke with science fiction writer Robert Sawyer about how this changes this brings.
The change, he says, is that NASA will start looking for arsenic as well, and possibly other chemicals. This could mean new missions to Titan, which is known for having traces of arsenic. Another change could be the scientific equipment we send to space - probes might be retrofitted to search for arsenic. ...
"It's a huge breakthrough. It changes the probabilities for their being life on other planets," Sawyer told FoxNews.com. "If there is more than one recipe that makes life, then there are chances of rolling the dice in a chemical soup of all over the universe, and the chances of that chemical soup giving rise to life is much larger."
Mono Lake is already a fascinating spot, even before the discovery of arsenic-based life. Thanks to high alkalinity and salinity, no fish can survive the waters, yet it is home to a species of shrimp that exist nowhere else on Earth. But now that it's home to genuine alien life, it's the new Area 51.
Who could have seen another form of life existing on our own planet (well, besides the writers of Doctor Who's Silurians)? Most everyone assumed alien life would come from other planets. Now NASA's researchers have to change their division name from "Astrobiology" to "Xenobiology."